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This article by Richard J. Skelly was prepared for the January 8, 2003 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Hanging Out with Ernie White

Like so many other talented, driven musicians, guitarist,

singer and songwriter Ernie White learned quickly enough that there

are no pensions in the music business. White and other veteran musicians

from the Trenton area who go back to the 1970s, like Joe "Zook"

Zuccarello and Paul Plumeri, fondly remember a time when they could

make their living playing clubs in greater Trenton. Eventually Zuccarello

took a job teaching music in the Trenton public schools, Plumeri works

for the New Jersey Office of Ombudsman for the Institutionalized Elderly,

and White learned he could stabilize his income and craft a living

from music by opening his own recording studio and delivering guitar

lessons on the side.

He opened LeBlanc Studios in his Hamilton Township home in 1995. Two

excellent, roots-rock oriented albums have emanated from his home

studios, "Rude Awakening" in 1999, and "Scenes From America"

in 1997. White has since released an acoustic album, "Ernie White

Unplugged" on his own LeBlanc Records label. On both releases,

White brilliantly fuses together elements of blues, classic R&B, jazz,

and pioneering, 1950s-oriented rock ‘n’ roll. All the album songs

are originals.

"The studio in the home came out of needing a studio to do my

own thing at," he explains, "and I started with that premise

in mind. Then it evolved into taking in other people and recording

their projects as well."

The name LeBlanc comes from his father, he says. "It was my dad’s

actual last name, he was French Canadian, and when he immigrated to

America in the 1930s, they thought it would be better to change their

last name to White, to blend in."

White, 48, was raised in Hamilton and began playing guitar as a 10-year-old.

Like fellow Trenton-area guitarists Plumeri and Zook, White says seeing

the Beatles on TV had an impact, as did Ricky Nelson on the old "Ozzie

and Harriet" television show.

"I had a private teacher, Charlie Keintz. He was based in Trenton,

and he was my musical mentor in the early days. Through high school,

I was in the jazz band and concert band and any band I could get into

at St. Anthony High School," says White.

White knows he came of age at a great time for New Jersey clubs and

a great time in the development of rock ‘n’ roll music in America.

"All kinds of great music was coming out of everywhere at that

point, in the late 1960s and early 70s," says the 1972 high school

graduate.

"In the early 70s, we were playing — all of us — six nights

a week, sometimes five sets a night. And you could play every night

of the week, sometimes you’d play one place two weeks in a row. You

could learn so much by hanging out and seeing other bands, there were

so many others around," he recalls.

"I would hang out just to learn, listen and cop a riff. I remember

on a night off, I would hang around and listen to Joe Zook play and

then go home to my living room and try and duplicate what I’d heard

him do."

Considering the brushes with fame he has had, one couldn’t blame White

if he decided back in the early 1990s that he wanted to throw in the

towel. Instead, he continues to pursue his own highly stylized vision

of rock ‘n’ roll, playing at clubs around New Jersey and New York,

including the Tap Room in the Nassau Inn, where he plays Friday, January

10.

By 12, White was playing in his first rock ‘n’ roll band. Sam The

Band, a group he joined in his early 20s, was signed to Casablanca

Records in the late 1970s, then home to the rock ‘n’ roll group Kiss.

"I was in my early 20s, a huge fan of Sam the Band, and one day

they called and said they wanted me to audition for a guitarist spot.

It was a dream come true, because next thing I knew, I was on a big

jet plane to record with them out in the Rocky Mountains." Alas,

Casablanca Records folded and Sam The Band’s recording with White

on guitar was never released.

White then joined a band called Aviator, managed by now Sony Music

president Tommy Mottola. Mottola steered the band to RCA Records in

the late 1980s, and the Britain-based Escape Records in the mid-1990s

released the group’s self-titled debut in Europe.

"The drummer and bass player, the original members of Aviator,

were involved with Tommy Mottola in previous groups," White explains,

"and one thing led to another. They called me and we started writing

and doing demos together on four-track machines, ’cause that’s all

we had back then. We took our demos up to Tommy, because before Sony

he was with Champion Management, and he invited some RCA reps out

to a club in 1985 and the next day we were signed."

Mottola went on to a legendary career in the record business and now

heads the behemoth Sony Music. "I’m in the process of sending

him some recordings of an artist, Elissa Sapp, that I’m working with

over here," says White, "and thankfully, his ears are still

open."

White began his diversification process — offering guitar lessons,

creating his own production company, and recording studio — in

the early 1990s.

"The way I look at it, if you want to make it nowadays, if you

want to be self-employed as a musician, you need to diversify a bit,"

he argues, "and I still like to keep my fingers in the scene by

playing clubs gigs wherever." The key is White isn’t dependent

on fickle club owners and managers for his main source of income.

At the Tap Room on Friday, White will be accompanied by Mark Sacco

on drums, Tom Reock on keyboards, and Frank Wirtz on bass, a group

that comprises his working band for the last seven years.

White’s first self-released album, "Scenes From America,"

was re-released in Germany on MTM Records, and the album got some

radio play in Germany and other parts of Europe. "One day I got

a call from this guy in Germany and he happened to be one of the few

Aviator fans in Germany, and he explains, ‘you don’t understand, you

people have a cult following over here in Germany.’ So after the album

was re-released in Germany, I thought there would be some tour money

and we’d have a chance to go over there and play, but it never happened."

White’s 1999 release, "Rude Awakening" is distinctly autobiographical,

he explains. The front and back covers depict White with pieces of

bedroom furniture, out in the woods. It’s his way of displaying a

sense of humor about the end of his second marriage. The back cover

of the CD depicts White talking on the phone, sitting on his bed,

in the middle of the woods. Songs like "Walk Alone" and "It

Ain’t My Dream" describe his feelings after going through his

second divorce. White has two children from his first marriage, Mike

White, 29, a drummer, and Christopher White, 27.

"I have a musician and a scholar, because my son Christopher just

got out of grad school from Princeton with his master’s degree in

engineering," he says.

Asked about his inspirations on guitar through the years, White says

"my bag has always been that I’ve always liked a lot of different

styles: I like a bit of blues, a bit of jazz, a bit of reggae. My

music is a hybrid, I guess." He cites Eric Clapton, Carlos Santana,

Jeff Beck and Duane Allman as influences.

White has also had a few brushes with fame as a songwriter. An Ernie

White song appears on Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora’s latest solo

album, "Undiscovered Soul."

Like any seasoned jazz musician, he knows the intrinsic value of hanging

out, or as David Amram calls it, "hangoutology." "The

songs we do are from the heart," he says, "if something big

happens for the Ernie White Band, fine. If not, we’ll just keep doing

what we’ve been doing. You never know: The phone rings and you answer

it."

— Richard J. Skelly

Ernie White, the Tap Room, Nassau Inn, 609-921-7500. Friday,

January 10, 10 p.m.


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